While there is an endless list of the various styles of training, the most commonly used is progressive overload. This style of training can be beneficial to both new and experienced trainers and allows for growth at your specific pace. Progressive overload is simply adding more weight, sets, or repetitions of an exercise over time to continue challenging (overloading) the muscles. For strength and size gains when training, muscles must be put under strain. This strain causes tiny tears to the muscles and when they repair the muscle is stronger and oftentimes larger in size.
Progressive overload is about the act of challenging yourself. We often aim to get to a place of comfort when training, and when we get there we want to keep doing what feels good and natural. It’s always a nice boost to self-esteem when we can knock out a workout easy peasy, but we often can be holding ourselves back. This is only important if you are aiming for more muscle growth or strength. If you are happy where you’re at and do not wish for more growth, progressive overload is not the best path for you. Just remember that if you start noticing any loss in strength or weight gain/loss, you may need to make some revisions.
If you are interested in more strength gains, read on! There are a handful of ways to prioritize progressive overload into your own training. The method to implement this is entirely up to you, and should fit into what works best for your body.
Method 1: Increase Weight
This method is the most common approach to progressive overload and involves adding more resistance to your workout. This can be done by adding resistance bands for those previously using mostly body weight, or adding more weight to each exercise via dumbbells etc. Weight should be increased in small increments. DO NOT ADD HUGE AMOUNTS OF WEIGHT! A lot of injuries occur from adding too much weight at one time. Increase slowly. If you’ve only been using body weight, add a few pounds. If you’ve been training with 20 pounds, try 25 pounds. The key is to challenge yourself while reducing risk of injury. Pay attention to your body and you’ll notice when you truly feel challenged or when a workout is too easy.
Method 2: Increase Reps
This is a great option for those with limited equipment who want to make progress. Perhaps you’ve been doing 8 repetitions of each exercise and it’s become easy. Try taking it up to 12 reps and seeing how you feel. You should be ending each set with very little energy left in your tank and like you couldn’t get through any more repetitions. This method is also great for those who are working on form and are not ready or feel secure with weight.
The downside to this method is that you can only do so many reps. If you’re having to do 20+ reps to feel any kind of fatigue, you really need to look at the resistance. Also, by increasing reps you are also adding more time to your training session and this can be problematic for those with limited time to train.
Method 3: Increase Sets
This method will also add quite a bit of time to your workout. The standard range of sets for a training session is typically 1-4. If you’re only doing 1 set and feel you are not getting a great workout, or have plateaued, it’s time to add more sets. Remember, you are trying to fatigue those muscles so they can repair and grow! By the time you finish your last set, you should feel like you couldn’t do another.
***It’s important to note that while you want to work to fatigue those muscles, no exercise should ever compromise form. If you feel your form is compromised by weight, sets, or reps, dial it back and get the form perfect!
Method 4: Take Shorter Rests
Now if time is a big factor in training for you, this is a good method for you! Rest time can vary between 15 seconds - 3-5 minutes depending on how much weight you use and style of training. If you’re doing fairly lightweight exercises and are not reaching any kind of fatigue, you don’t need 1 minute breaks. Try 15-30 seconds, or try doing some circuits. Circuit training is completing an entire round of 4-6 exercises with no breaks in between and only resting when the entire set is complete.
Method 5: Increase Days Training
If you only train 1-2 days a week, it may be beneficial to train a few additional days. Now rest days are important for everyone, and you should always be taking 1-2 rest days a week from training, but sometimes 1-2 days is just not enough. Also, don’t forget to alternate training specific muscle groups to give them the most time for recovery. If you only train the same muscles in each session and take those 1-2 rest days, that often means those muscles are still constantly fatigued. Make sure to rotate between those muscle groups to avoid an injury that could set back progress.
Whichever method you choose for progressive overload, make sure you are paying attention to your body. Know when you need to rest and recover, know when an exercise is becoming easy. While you can set a plan for how and when you want to add difficulty to your sessions, only your body can tell you when you’re ready for that challenge. So listen to your body and get ready to see some growth!
Until next time… and remember fitness is for all!